THERMAL ADAPTATION OF PLANTS IS ESSENTIAL TO HUMANITY
Global warming is significantly altering the agricultural landscape, turning it into a riskier and less lucrative endeavour. The detrimental effects of rising temperatures on crops are felt worldwide, as climate change and its associated phenomena expedite the withering process and drive premature ripening of agricultural produce. Consequently, the repercussions extend beyond the affected crops, wreaking havoc on the surrounding plant life. This situation poses severe challenges and negative implications for agricultural sustainability and profitability.
Maize, wheat, potato, rice, soybean, banana, plantain, cocoa, and coffee production are major commodity and specialty crops at risk of significant production losses due to these stresses. These crops provide a livelihood to millions of smallholder farmers and are vital sources of calories and culture for billions of people worldwide.
This phenomenon is driving a counterproductive cycle of maladaptation at the farm level. In an attempt to compensate for income losses, farmers resort to escalating the use of pesticides and fertilisers. Unfortunately, this approach adversely affects soil quality, weakens the resilience of plants, and ultimately diminishes crop yields. Consequently, farmers may find themselves compelled to cultivate unfamiliar crops that they need more expertise or resources to profit from. Alternatively, they may be forced to abandon their agricultural pursuits altogether, reducing their quality of life and socioeconomic status. This scenario can literally drive agricultural systems for a specific crop into uncharted territories and virgin lands, fueling deforestation and habitat loss on a macro scale.
However, this doesn’t need to be the case. We can envision new technologies to support farmers in meeting human needs under adverse climatic conditions and consequently support livelihoods, biodiversity, and the natural processes that sustain life on Earth.
THE STATE OF THE ART
Several technologies are available to assist plants in coping with increasing radiation, heat, and extended drought periods.
Smart Irrigation Systems: Maximising water efficiency for plant health. These systems are designed to optimise and automate watering plants and landscapes. They utilise sensors, weather data, and intelligent algorithms to deliver water precisely when and where it is needed, ensuring efficient water usage and maintaining the health of plants. Their main limitation lies in their reliance on often scarce water supplies to help plants cope with increased transpiration and reduced soil moisture. Additionally, they require a high initial investment, which may be prohibitive for many farmers.
Semi-Controlled Environments: Tailoring growth conditions for optimal yields. This family of technologies includes shade structures, windbreakers, and partial enclosures designed to create optimal plant growth conditions by regulating specific environmental factors (e.g., radiation, temperature, wind, humidity). Their main constraint lies in the high initial investment required for installation, and the lack of universal suitability for every crop and climatic condition.
Protective Screens: Shielding plants from harmful radiation and heat stress. Mineral or chemical suspensions can be applied to plants to reflect solar radiation. These effectively reduce sunburn in fruits and alleviate heat-related stresses like dehydration and oxidation.
Enhancing plant resilience with next generation plant protection screens
Available protective screens are in fact a good step towards developing thermal resilience in plants. However, there is an opportunity to offer farmers additional value beyond plant protection by helping plants recover from stresses; enhancing plants’ photosynthetic efficiency and improving their cost-effectiveness for vulnerable crops. Such outcomes could be achieved with:
Biostimulants: Unlocking Plant Potential for Enhanced Resilience, and Productivity. Microorganisms and bioactive substances can achieve these outcomes by modulating plant hormone levels and signalling pathways to promote adaptive physiological responses. They can also boost antioxidant activity, maintain cell balance, optimise nutrient uptake and metabolic pathways, and support productivity under heat-stress conditions.
Nanomaterials: Enhancing Photosynthesis and Substance Delivery to Plants. Nanomaterials can be leveraged to enhance photosynthesis by improving light absorption and energy conversion in plants. They can also be used as precision carriers for nutrients, phytohormones and stress-responsive compounds, such as antioxidants and osmoprotectants.
So here’s where we come in. We believe it is possible to harness the potential of advanced nanomaterials to enhance the precision and effectiveness of bioactive compounds to fortify plants against heat related stresses. Furthermore, we now have the ability to achieve this while also shielding plants from harmful radiation and simultaneously converting it into valuable energy, propelling agricultural yields to new heights.
PLANT BIOCHEMISTRY AND NANOSCIENCE-DRIVEN RESILIENCE
Our innovative strategy to increase crop yields and reduce reliance on scarce resources
After months of thorough research and extensive consultation with industry experts, we have devised an innovative strategy that harnesses the inherent adaptability of plants to suboptimal conditions. This approach also deploys nanomaterials to manipulate solar radiation and enhance metabolic processes to increase yields and reduce the need for other scarce or dangerous inputs.
Partnership opportunities with TABI and local institutions in Costa Rica
This venture creation opportunity is supported by our Tropical Agriculture and Biodiversity Initiative (TABI) partners in Costa Rica. In addition to entrepreneurship training from DSV, Founders on the program have access to TABI program partner experts and advisors from leading local institutions, such as: EARTH University and the Center of Tropical Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE), as well as the CR BioMed Cluster and the Costa Rican lnvestment Promotion Agency (CINDE). The program is generously funded by Fundación CRUSA.
JOIN OUR VENTURE: CO-FOUNDER WANTED
In the coming months, I (Mauricio Herrera Rodríguez) will be establishing a venture based on this technology and am now seeking a co-founder to join me in building a company focused on enhancing crops’ resilience to climate change. We're looking for entrepreneurially-savvy scientists who specialise in organic synthesis of nanomaterials; and/or if you are an expert in plant biochemistry and have insights into stress prevention and recovery, we're interested in hearing from you. Most importantly, we're seeking individuals who are highly driven to start a company right from the beginning. Please see more details on the role and the application process in the job descriptions linked above.